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Languages evolve to become easier (not harder!)
Let us begin with something we can all agree upon: languages change. In fact, only dead languages do not change. Now we can ask ourselves: "if languages change, wouldn't it be sensible to think that they change to become easier to learn?".

While the difficulty of a foreign language is to some extent relative, i.e. it depends on our first language, perhaps there are some absolute features that make a language inherently harder (e.g. noun genders, grammatical cases, verb conjugations, irregular verbs, a logographic writing system, etc.) and some others that make it easier (e.g. few and clear tenses, few declensions, exact correspondence of Orthography and Phonetics, clear syntax, consistent grammar rules with few or no exceptions, a writing system easy to learn, easy to read and easy to write, etc.)

Language evolution points towards easiness. Countless phrases that we take for granted today, would have been considered grammatically grotesque in previous centuries. Those 'mistakes' became the norm because they require less effort. Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and French are easy variants of Latin. Modern German is easier than Old High German and English is easier than German. When Turkish was written using a form of the Arabic script, the literacy rate was around 10%; when the latin script was adopted, literacy went over 90%. Considering Chinese, Japanese and Arabic, it becomes clear that when it comes to writing systems, the latin alphabet stands out as a formidable piece of technology.

Everything moves towards efficiency and effectiveness. Making a language harder would be like deciding to ditch our cars for horse carts. Can we conclude that the easier a language is, the more evolved it is?

Why am I starting this discussion? Because I am not a linguist, I can not overcome my biases and it is likely that this is a fallacious idea born out of ignorance.
Jul 25, 2016 1:26 PM
Comments · 17 have to get with the times man! Evolve! In this day and age it is just so uncool to back up our opinions in public discourse with tedious facts and sources and citations. Making broad generalizations about countries or people, however absurd they may be, is the fashionable thing to do now! Did I make up my little story? Is it really true? Who cares! We can just make up stuff as we go along now :) I´m lazy myself to backup what I wrote, but it´s not even really necessary... you see? And besides, I´m a little busy right now learning all there is to know about the craft of brick-laying. The wall will be magnificent! The wall will be yuuuuuuuge :)
July 26, 2016

A little anecdote I read about many years ago which also shows not only languges evolve, but are forced to evolve: in the 90´s, during the negotiations that came about building the European Union, Spain was asked to drop the ñ out of the Spanish language (basically to standarize keyboards on computers.) Thankfully that stupid idea was discarded and the Spanish speaking world was able to keep our most precious letter... la eñe.

Now think about it, what would the Spanish language be now had Spain agreed to drop the ñ from the abecedario out of commercial convenience? Drop the ñ just because Americans and Brits are too lazy too include it in a Spanish keyboard or take 5 seconds to get used to it?

July 26, 2016

@Chac mool - Ok man. After you finish the wall, don't forget to pay for it.

July 27, 2016

@Chac mool - please cite your anecdote, and for the future, please cite any time you feel you need to call an entire country lazy.

July 26, 2016
I would say - as a layman - that languages change primarily because the world changes. Languages evolve to meet the needs of their speakers (sometimes involuntarily through settlements/invasions of foreigners). And since those needs change, languages also change. Imagine a tribe of hunter-gatherers. Their language will reflect their particular circumstances. For hunters it’s important of course to be able to communicate accurately and efficiently about things related to hunting. I heard of a hunter-gatherer tribe whose language could be whistled and still be intelligible. That seems useful if you are out hunting and don’t want to frighten your prey. On the other hand, having a written language would probably be a waste of time for them. I find it reasonable to claim that societies have evolved towards increasing complexity and for that reason I find it likely that our languages have not become easier to learn, but harder. Not so much because of the particular features of a language, but because we need more words and expressions to communicate the things we need and want to. You can’t separate the concepts you need to learn when you learn a language from the language itself. People who didn’t have a written language only inherited the words and concepts that older members of the tribe understood and could remember. Later, with written languages, it became possible to accumulate knowledge and ideas. And we have developed highly sophisticated literary languages in order to stimulate our minds. A hunter-gatherer doesn’t need synonyms, for him it would be a waste of precious mental resources. For a poet on the other hand, a synonym is a valuable tool to create variation.

I have also posted this as a notebook entry, in case someone wants to correct my language or criticise my ideas.

July 31, 2016
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